The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

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July 13, 2006

Hogweed: It can make you blind


Staff Writer

SAYBROOK TOWNSHIP - - The massive size of giant hogweed makes it desirable for arboretums and gardens, but its hazardous sap is what has caused growing concern across the county.

David Marrison, extension educator for the countys Ohio State University Extension Office, conducted a training workshop Monday at Saybrook Township administrative offices to educate folks on identifying and destroying the noxious weed.

"Anyone can have it in their garden or on the roadside," he said. "The big thing is identifying it."

Hogweed was first documented in Ashtabula County in 2004. It was first recorded in the United States in 1917 in an ornamental garden in New York, having been found in Europe since the 1800s, Marrison said.

Last year, hogweed was added to the Ohio Department of Agricultures noxious weed list. It is also on the federal list, making it illegal to propagate, sell or transport it. It was added to these lists because of its ability to spread and its potential hazards to human health, he said.

One giant hogweed plant can produce 20,000 seeds, allowing it to spread easily if not managed.

"Once its in an area, it can completely take over the area," Marrison said.

Its greatest danger, however, is the effect its sap has on humans. Furocoumarins in the sap can cause a skin reaction called photodermatitis. The condition causes skin to become hypersensitive to sunlight, resulting in damage to skin cells, he said.

"The skin absorbs too much ultraviolet light," Marrison said.

Swelling and blistering of the skin may occur, as well as permanent scarring. Contact with eyes can cause temporary, or sometimes permanent, blindness, he said.

The key to controlling this beast is identifying it early. The easiest way to identify hogweed is by its distinct stem, Marrison said. The stem on a hogweed always will have a green base. It is hollow and rigid with reddish/ purple splotches and course white hairs or bristles, he said.

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